What Children Really Want and Why it Benefits You to Give it to Them

One of the most hair-raising things about being a parent would probably have to be  the part about getting your children to do what you want.  I posted a FB status recently and other mothers with young children chimed in their agreement.  It was:

The paradox of being a child: he won’t get into the shower, but once he’s in, he won’t get out. He refuses to follow you to the supermarket, but once he’s out, he won’t go home. He fights sleep with a vengeance, but once he’s in la la land, he won’t wake up…

So what’s the magic involved behind getting a child to do what you want (without the screams, tears and frustration)?  Well, I’m still working out the finer details, but here are some great tips I’ve been reading about…

Strollerderby talks about giving positive feedback which in those frazzled, high-stress moments of parenting can be incredibly hard to remember to do.  However, it is what works best.  I have found that to be the case with Gavin as well.  I’d like to extrapolate with a further example…

There are a lot of things that children do which we don’t like – climbing onto the dining table, taking off their seat belts in the car and jumping around, playing too roughly with their baby siblings, and I could go on and on.  Whenever we see these “misbehaviours”, we’ll tell them to stop it.  Yet, not matter how many times you tell them, they still seem to keep doing it time and time again.

“How many times have I told you NOT to…”

Does this phrase sound familiar?  I’ll bet.  It is easy to take it as an act of defiance whenever our children commit the same misbehaviours they were told off for the day before.  While this might be the case for an older child, we have to remember that young children are forgetful.  They often get so caught up in their activities that they forget “temporarily” the things they aren’t supposed to do.  They need constant reminders.

These days, I have noticed Gavin immediately correcting his behaviour after I’ve pointed out to him that he’s just done something he isn’t supposed to.  He will say, “Okay, Mummy.  I’m listening to you.”  And he will stop whatever it was that he was doing which brought about the reprimand.

I can then choose to praise him for being cooperative and immediately correcting his behaviour, or I can choose to nag him about doing something even though I’ve been telling him for the umpteenth time not to do it.  As much as I would like to do the latter, I’ve been trying to control the urge and focus on the fact that he listened.  Perhaps that might sound as if I’m letting him off easy, but I look at it this way:

If I choose to nag him bout doing something even though I’ve told him many times before not to do it, he will think, “Gosh, I just listened to Mummy and still she nags me.  Next time I won’t bother to listen at all.”

If I praise him for stopping the “misbehaviour”, he will feel more inclined to correct any misbehaviours I point out in future and to do correct them immediately.

These days, I find Gavin fishing for praise.  He loves to be praised and will ask for it whenever he feels he is doing something good.  I find the more positively I praise him, the more eager he is to please.

Psychology Today gives an excellent example about giving good feedback:

The Clapping Contest: An Exercise for the Imagination

Imagine you are taking part in a clapping contest.  I know it’s an odd thing to do, but just imagine it.  Three judges are chosen to rate the quality of clapping on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being the very best score and 1 being the worst.  You are competing in this contest and you really want to do well.  You have one practice trial where you get feedback and then you do it for real.

Scenario One: You enter the room and stand in front of the judges, ready for your practice trial.  You clap wildly – frantically and enthusiastically for the required 30 seconds.  Then you stop.  The judges confer.  Judge 1 gives you a 3.  Judge 2 gives you a 2.  Judge 3 gives you a 3.  You leave the room with 3 minutes to prepare for your performance.

Scenario Two: You enter the room and stand in front of the judges.  You clap wildly for 30 seconds.  Then you stop.  The judges confer.  “I don’t really like the fact that you started your applause at such a quick pace.  There was no texture to your performance”, stated the first judge.  “And the beats were much too close together”, said the second.  Judge 3 just shook her head.  “Too quiet.  Much too quiet.”  You earn two 3s and a 2.  You leave the room to prepare.

Scenario Three: You enter the room and clap wildly for 30 seconds.  The judges confer.  “What I think really makes an excellent performance”, explained the first judge, “is a performance that builds.  I like it to began slowly and then get louder and louder, almost like a crashing wave.  What you did was great for the end part, but it would have much more impact if you created some contrast between the beginning and the end.”  The second judge nodded.  “You can also increase the crescendo by starting with slower, quieter clapping, but then getting faster and louder towards the real triumphant ending. Your clapping at the end was quite good”  “You’re looking for a sharper sounds as well”, said the third judge.  “You keep clapping with the middle of your hands, but you really want that sharp sound to give it some definition.  I absolutely hate that hollow palm on palm sound”.  You earn two 3s and a 2 and go to prepare for your final performance.

Think: In which scenario do you think your final performance will really shine?

In Scenario 1, you’ve gotten feedback – your marks – but you have no idea what they’re based on.  You know you need to change something.  But what?  They’ve given you no clue, so you’re equally likely to change for the worse as change for the better.

In Scenario 2, you’ve been told what not to do, but you don’t know what your goal is.  So you can avoid the behavior you know they didn’t like (being quiet, starting too loudly and not having enough texture, and clapping too fast).  But what are they looking for?  There are many, many ways of clapping that avoid those things but still aren’t right.  Note too, that in my example, I had the judges give negative feedback. But it works the same way if they only praised you. If they tell you what you did right, but gave you mediocre marks, you know you need to change.  But you don’t know what or how.

Scenario 3 is the most useful.  They tell you what your goal is – eliminating a whole range of possible behaviors.  They tell you which aspects of your behavior will help you towards optimal performance.  They tell you what they don’t like as well.  And they even give you some ideas for behaviors or techniques you may not have thought about.

Give the feedback you’d need to do your best.

After reading that, I’ve come to realise that I’m terrible at giving “good” feedback.  I’ve given Gavin positive feedback and I’ve given him negative feedback, but I am rarely very specific with my feedback.  The only times when I’ve been specific with my expectations have been the times when I’m preparing him for events.  For instance, when I know I’ve got to take him to a place he won’t enjoy, I usually pre-empt him and tell him exactly what I expect from him: “We are going to [insert name]’s house.  When you get there, I expect you to be polite.  You are to greet everyone you see…” etc.

Maybe it’s time to get specific about what behaviour I’d like to see from him.  So the next time we have to get into the shower, perhaps I should try something like: “I like it when you get into the shower without making a fuss.  It makes me proud when you cooperate and get dressed quickly by yourself.” Let’s see how that goes…

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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